Door Closes on Long Career: Gacomo, Bellman for 69 Years, Dies
Pinehurst's "professional bellman" has died.
Ralph Gacomo, 96, who had been a bellhop at the Carolina Hotel for 69 years and was called an icon by his co-workers, died Tuesday morning of an apparent heart attack.
"It's a sad day," said Scott Brewton, general manager and executive vice president of operations for the resort. "We're here to take care of our guests and serve them like we always do, but I think everybody's heart is a little broken today."
Gacomo had toted the luggage of the rich and famous, as well as regular folks. He worked twice a week -- Mondays and Saturdays, and performed all the regular duties of bellman 50 years his junior. He worked Monday.
Co-workers called him a consummate pro who loved people, had pride in his performance, and loved to kid around.
"He lived a good life," said Janeen Driscoll, communications manager for the resort. "He lived a long life. He was an inspiration,"
Brewton said, "He was part of the building. He lived in a house in Old Town, but this was his home."
Darrell Parsons, the bell staff manager for the resort, worked with Gacomo on Monday. He called his friend and co-worker a jovial man who had a simplicity about him that endeared him to everyone he met.
"He was a unique person," Parsons said. "He referred to himself as a professional bellman. His way was, 'I like my job; I like doing what I do, it's my job.'"
Parsons said Gacomo was known for his unfailing memory. He could recall names and faces of people who had visited the hotel in the past, personally greeting them with a handshake and warm welcome back.
"The cool thing about him was that he was happy to see anybody, whether he was seeing them again or seeing them for the first time," Parsons said.
Brewton recalled introducing Gacomo at an awards banquet honoring the resort's most veteran staff member.
"I made the comment that there weren't any elevators in the resort when he started," Brewton said. "He quickly corrected me, and said, 'Oh, yes we had elevators.' He looked at me as if to say, 'I know I am old, but I am not that old.'"
Gacomo was born on May 30, 1911. He emigrated from Italy with his family to New Jersey when he was 12. In 1929, they moved to Pinehurst because the warm weather was recommended for his mother's arthritis.
Gacomo was hired as a bellhop at the Carolina on Feb. 1, 1939. Prior to joining the resort staff, Gacomo worked at the post office in Southern Pines. He was a U.S. Army veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart.
When he came to the Carolina hotel in 1939, it was known as "The Queen of the South." In those days, he worked 12-plus hours a day, six days a week for $12 a month, plus room and board.
During his 69 years on the job, Gacomo carried luggage and opened doors for many famous people who have visited the resort, including former first ladies Mamie Eisenhower and Nancy Reagan, former President Gerald Ford, actress Natalie Wood, actors Don Knotts and James Garner, entertainer Bing Crosby and golfing legends Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Fred Couples, one of his favorites.
"It made him feel good when he could do small things for big people," Parsons said.
His wife, Aileen, died in 1990. The couple had two children. They had met and fallen in love in 1950, when she was a waitress in the Carolina dining room.
Despite his longevity, Gacomo didn't view himself as a celebrity, but rather an "old, old timer" who loved being around people, according to many who knew him. Gacomo said in 2000 that the thrill of the job for him wasn't about meeting celebrities.
"I love to be around people," he said in an interview for that story.
According to police reports, Gacomo died of natural causes at 6:52 a.m. Tuesday morning. He was driving his 2001 Chevy Malibu near the intersection of Dundee and Medlin Road when the incident took place. Gacomo lived in a home on Medlin Road. The incident occurred near Pinehurst Elementary School. School Principal Sara Bigley called the police.
Parsons said a "cold chill went up his back" when he heard the news that Gacomo had died.
"You just hope it's not true," he said.
Parsons said the 21 members of the bell staff -- some who had worked with Gacomo for more than 20 years -- are taking the loss hard.
"We are a close group, like a big family and he was part of our family," Parsons said.
Parsons remembered one of his last conversations with Gacomo.
"On Monday, we were talking about our job and what a great place Pinehurst is," Parsons said. "Ralph summed it up by saying to me, 'I like my job and it's as simple as that.'"
Contact Tom Embrey at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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